Living Buildings take Sustainability to the Next Level

Photogrpahy of the Bertschi School Living Science Building. Seattle, Washington. Clients: KMD Architects, The Bertschi School, Skanska USA Building, Quantum Consulting Engineers, LLC, Hermanson Company, LLC, GGLO, Rushing and O'Brien & Company. © Benjamin Benschneider All rights Reserved. Usage rights may be arranged by contacting Benjamin Benschneider Photography. Email: or phone 206-789-5973

The Bertschi School Living Science Building in Seattle, Washington. Built by Skanska as one of our first living building projects.

For years, sustainability has been more than just a buzzword in the construction industry – and with good reason.  As stewards of a planet with limited natural resources, it’s in our own interest to build projects that consume less.

The concept of Net-Zero construction has pushed the boundaries of sustainable green building further. This movement saw projects designed and constructed to offset the energy and water operations consumer through a variety of strategies ranging from on-site energy generation to rainwater harvesting.

We are entering the era of the Living Building, the industry’s most rigorous performance standard to date.  According to the International Living Future Institute, Living Buildings operate as cleanly, beautifully and efficiently as nature’s architecture.

Skanksa has become a vocal champion of green, sustainable and living building. In a recent interview with Construction DiveStacy Smedley, director of sustainability at Skanska USA, shared her experiences with ILFI and how it is a new area worthy of exploration.

Read the full story, with more from Stacy Smedley, here.

And for more on “How a Living Building Comes to Life,” check out our previous blog post here.

Skanska USA

Skanska USA

Skanska USA is one of the largest, most financially sound construction and development companies in the U.S., serving a broad range of clients in the public and private sectors, including those in transportation, power, industrial, water/wastewater, healthcare, life science, education, sports & entertainment, data centers, government, aviation and commercial industries.

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Ace sustainability in a green school

For students in Seattle, Washington, D.C., and some other U.S. cities, the first day of school this year has special significance – it means they will be learning in a green school, quite likely for the first time.

At D.C.’s new Brookland Middle School, for instance, being green means having geothermal wells power the heating and cooling system. It means re-using rainwater to flush toilets. And it means highly-efficient LED lighting, and even a rooftop classroom with gardens for vegetables and butterflies. Topping it all off will hopefully be a planned rooftop solar array for on-site renewable energy generation. Another critical aspect of school sustainability is setting and achieving aggressive targets for economic inclusion so the local workforce can benefit from the project’s economic impact. Such approaches mean Brookland and other green schools will not only save on energy costs and improve the local communities, but their green features are designed to inspire students and help them learn about sustainability.

Brookland is one of a growing number of schools embracing sustainable design and construction. Just a few years ago, the concept of “green schools” was a vision of the future. Trailblazers such as the Bertschi School Living Science Classroom in Seattle, which achieved the rigorous Living Building green building standard, demonstrated the bold belief that applying green design and construction principles to school facilities could positively impact the learning and teaching experience.

Today, students and teachers across the country are realizing the benefits of learning and working in optimized green environments. As the USGBC’s Center for Green Schools notes, “Green schools reduce the environmental impact of buildings and grounds, have a positive effect on student and teacher health, and increase environmental literacy among students and graduates.”

For more on green schools, check out our new infographic on the future of sustainable design and construction for K-12.


Skanska USA

Skanska USA

Skanska USA is one of the largest, most financially sound construction and development companies in the U.S., serving a broad range of clients in the public and private sectors, including those in transportation, power, industrial, water/wastewater, healthcare, life science, education, sports & entertainment, data centers, government, aviation and commercial industries.

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Creating one of the world’s greenest buildings

Solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal wells, rain cisterns and composting toilets – you don’t often see those all in one building, if you see them at all. But these are central to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Brock Environmental Center, which was recently dedicated in Virginia Beach, Va.

After three years spent planning, designing and building this facility, it was great to see local residents exploring what is possible with green building during the open house.  The Brock center is targeting not only LEED Platinum certification, but also the even more stringent Living Building Challenge that requires net zero environmental impact. Some of those residents seemed to be in awe of what was accomplished by this team, which includes not only CBF and Skanska (as CBF’s representative) as key team members, but also SmithGroupJJR, Hourigan Construction and WPL Site Design.

I’m still a bit in awe myself as to what this great team achieved: an international model for energy and water efficiency and climate change resiliency, and Virginia’s greenest building.  The team reached these tough goals because of open minds and much collaboration amongst team members. (This video of the eco-charette shows us all engaging in early discussions about this project – this session was at the beginning of a great adventure!)

The challenges were many, as this team was a green pioneer. Take, for example, that the 10,000-square-foot building collects rainwater, then filters and re-uses it as drinking water to help achieve net-zero water use. As far as we know, that’s a first for a commercial-scale building in the U.S., and it required the facility to be certified as a water treatment plant. Early in design, the project team engaged both the City of Virginia Beach and the Virginia Department of Health to make certain that they could legally re-use water in this way. After much constructive back and forth, that system is running today – and that water tastes great!

Ensuring that only proper materials were used on this project was another considerable challenge. With the Living Building Challenge, materials must be locally sourced and must not contain any of the 22 potentially harmful materials or chemicals on the Challenge’s Red List. The Brock center is Skanska’s second Living Building Challenge project, following Seattle’s Bertschi School Science Classroom that we completed in 2011. (The Bertschi classroom was awarded Living Building certification in 2013, becoming the world’s fourth Living Building.) Being able to tap the resources of our Bertschi School team was a great starting point and ongoing resource for the Brock center team. However, Brock involved different materials and a later Living Building Challenge version, so the Brock team still had to do substantial legwork to ensure that all products met requirements. You can never start early enough on materials research, but thankfully for this project our committed partners of SmithGroupJJR and Hourigan did great work in this regard.

Brock Center

As with all Living Building Challenge projects, though construction is complete the project team will keep close watch over the building. Living Building certification requires the building to be monitored over the next year to ensure it operates as intended, including meeting net zero energy and water goals. You’ll be able to see for yourself how this building’s green features make it independent of outside energy and water sources: starting in February, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is opening the Brock center for regular tours. As the building is home to CBF’s local staff and environmental education programs, it has the potential to inspire thousands of students to expect and aspire to a future populated by living buildings. Imagine how such a world would help protect the magnificent Chesapeake Bay.

I live in the neighboring city of Norfolk, so I definitely plan to come back and see this important resource in use. I hope to see you there.

Megan O’Connell

Megan O’Connell

Senior project engineer

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What does a Living Building cost or save versus a LEED Platinum building?

In 2011, Skanska completed the West Coast’s first and the world’s fourth certified Living Building in Seattle: The Bertschi School Science Classroom addition. But Living Buildings — which must meet a series of ambitious performance requirements, including net zero energy, waste and water, over a minimum of 12 months of continuous occupancy – are still so rare that many questions remain about how they compare financially to its next closest neighbor, LEED Platinum.

So when the District of Columbia’s Department of Environment was looking to understand the costs and benefits associated with net zero energy, net zero water and Living Buildings, our team was eager to help with this effort of quantifying the rewards of ultra-green buildings.

The District of Columbia’s Department of Environment had two goals: first, to investigate the costs associated with upgrading existing buildings from LEED Platinum to zero energy, zero water and Living Building. And second, to collect data to advise policy makers on deep-green buildings and incentives. Their findings are published in: Net Zero and Living Building Challenge Financial Study: A Cost Comparison Report for Buildings in the District of Columbia. For the study, Skanska joined the New Buildings Institute (NBI) and the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) to conceptually transform three LEED v3 Platinum-designed buildings in the District to net zero energy, net zero water and Living Buildings. Three reference buildings were chosen to represent three of the most common developments in the District of Columbia: new office construction, new multifamily construction and office renovation.

88M Hero Print - E

A rendering of our 88 M Street NE project in Washington, D.C., one of the three reference buildings in the study.

NBI and ILFI determined the most appropriate energy efficiency and renewable energy strategies for the buildings, while Skanska determined the anticipated differential costs for the various energy strategies employed.

The team applied a set of energy efficiency measures to each building’s envelope, lighting, HVAC, operations, occupancy and direct loads, along with rainwater harvesting techniques in order to achieve reduced energy and water usage before adding photovoltaics and water-reuse strategies.

The costs for getting to net zero are difficult to distinguish from overall project costs. However, our team conducted an analysis to identify costs connected to energy and water conservation, as well as the photovoltaic and water reuse systems necessary for such a project.

So what’s the answer?

The initial cost for energy efficiency is approximately 1-12 percent higher, varying by the building type. This rises to 5-19 percent in net-zero energy buildings when considering the added cost of photovoltaic power supply. But the benefits make the added cost worthwhile: the energy efficiency measures alone offer a return on investment of 6-12 percent. After factoring current tax and renewable energy credits into these figures, the return on investment in net zero building is approximately 30 percent.

That is not to say the net-zero goal is appropriate or feasible in every case. When considered in isolation, even ultra-efficient 300,000-square-foot buildings with today’s onsite renewable energy technology cannot generate as much energy or collect as much water as they consume over the course of a year.  In fact, these buildings would require up to seven equivalent rooftop areas to achieve net zero.  And achieving net zero is not only a matter of design; it also requires careful attention in such areas as operations and maintenance.

But ultimately, this project yielded valuable results that will inform future design decisions on our journey to Deep Green. The largest benefit: it raises the dialogue over the value of net zero to a new level.

Facility owners now have something tangible to consider when looking at high-performance buildings. We’ve come a long way with Living Buildings, but there is now a true framework to have meaningful conversations shifting from first cost alone to life-cycle value, emboldening market leaders to explore building solutions that push the envelope toward a more sustainable future.


Steve Clem

Steve Clem

Skanska USA Vice president of preconstruction

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How we spent our June: Living Building Challenge infographic, Bayonne Bridge kick-off and more!

We can’t believe how fast the first six months of 2013 have gone! Our accomplishments in June provide a glimpse of the many great projects and initiatives Skanska USA is working on, and the people behind them all. One of the main highlights of the month was the release of our “How a Living Building Comes to Life” infographic.


As part of the Restorative Design Collective, our team created the Bertschi School Science Classroom Addition in Seattle in line with the Living Building Challenge, the world’s most stringent green building certification. Our infographic shows the factors that make up this project, and how it became the West Coast’s first certified Living Building. We’re also proud and honored to have had the infographic featured on TreeHugger and Mother Nature Network. Below are more highlights from June.

Bayonne Bridge “Raise the Roadway” project

bayonne bridge

On June 26th, a crowd of hundreds – consisting of Skanska employees along with union workers and community members – gathered with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to celebrate the beginning of the historic Bayonne Bridge “Raise the Roadway” project. This bridge connects Bayonne, N.J., with Staten Island, N.Y.

The Skanska-Kiewit joint venture project team will raise the roadway on the Bayonne Bridge by 64 feet for a total of 215 feet of clearance. This will be essential in accommodating the next generation of container ships, called “New Panamax,” which will begin shipping from Asia following the widening of the Panama Canal by 2015.

The importance of resilient infrastructure

Another notable event that happened in June was New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s “A Stronger, More Resilient New York” plan with recommendations to rebuilding the communities impacted by Sandy and an overall plan to increase the resilience of infrastructure, a topic we care deeply about.

university medical center

University Medical Center (pictured above), which our joint venture team is building in New Orleans, is a great example of building to resist a hurricane. The structure is replacing another hospital that was ruined by Hurricane Katrina. Learn how this structure will be ready for another superstorm here.

Using diversity to develop the best project solutions


Of the 27 employees at the headquarters of Skanska’s North American Infrastructure Development unit near Washington, D.C., nine different nationalities are represented and 30 percent of the employees are female. This group – which develops public-private partnership (PPP) solutions for infrastructure needs that include highways and tunnels – relies on this diversity to develop the best solutions for clients, drawing on employees’ global worldviews and experiences. Shown above is a photo of our global Infrastructure Development team.

Nikon Theater at Jones Beach on Long Island, N.Y.

nikon theatre

Last October, Hurricane Sandy tore through the Nikon at Jones Beach Theater on New York’s Long Island, severely damaging this historic venue that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. On May 31, thanks to the efforts of Skanska’s design-build team – including designer Ewing Cole – the 14,000-seat theater reopened for the season, hosting a concert by country superstars Rascal Flatts. See a slideshow of the restoration here.

I-215 freeway improvements in California

perris california

In Perris, Calif., we’re improving a 14-mile stretch of Interstate 215 southeast of Los Angeles. Shown above is a bridge our team is widening as part of that work. The project will widen the highway from two lanes, to three.

Atlanta’s Best and Brightest Companies to work for

atlanta's best companies to work for

On June 20th we were honored at Atlanta’s Best and Brightest Companies To Work For luncheon.

7 Line subway extension in New York City

7 line extension

A group from our Skanska Young Professionals group spent an afternoon touring the 7 Line Extension project our joint venture team is working on in NYC. It’s great building projects that will make such a difference in people’s lives!

Overall, June was a great month in terms of spreading Living Building awareness, progressing on notable construction projects and team building. We look forward to what July will bring! To stay on top of Skanska USA activities, be sure to “like” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram. We reached 9,000 Twitter followers on June 20th and look forward to more great conversations.

Skanska USA

Skanska USA

Skanska USA is one of the largest, most financially sound construction and development companies in the U.S., serving a broad range of clients in the public and private sectors, including those in transportation, power, industrial, water/wastewater, healthcare, life science, education, sports & entertainment, data centers, government, aviation and commercial industries.

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